Heartbreak | The End

A friend told me not to think this way earlier today, but I simply can’t see the world otherwise, and I feel this worth writing as a cathartic final expression and processing on this topic. This will be the last heartbreak post, hopefully permanently. After this, I will return to the topics of Buddhism, philosophy, and life that generally have been the focus of this blog’s efforts. Hopefully, I can finish out the series on The Dhammapada for instance, which has been mostly dormant over the last couple years.


I’m setting the intention for myself never to have a romantic relationship again.

A friend told me that the person who broke my heart wouldn’t be the one to break me, but the ups and downs, highs and lows, and general games of being drawn in and thrown away over and over were traumatic for me (will return to this below), and furthermore, they act as the opposite kind of bad experience to what I had previously come to know from relationships – the profound unsatisfactory dynamic of a relationship that is settling. The last experience showed me what I want regarding high compatibility, which I know will be incredibly rare to find. I still find it odd, as friends seem to affirm that I should find that and deserve it but then act as though there are solid chances of finding that most anywhere – which shows they don’t really understand what it is I’m looking for or how uncommon those would be as a combination in someone. Some have suggested that I should just be happy with someone who’s nice and supportive, but I’ve been there and know how empty that will be a year or two into a relationship.

I’ve put these suspicions about rarity to the test. I’ve looked over hundreds, if not thousands of dating profiles. There have been so few that even raised an eyebrow about some sort of long-term compatibility that I could probably count them all on one hand.

I’ve been going rounds beating myself up over this again and again – feeling like it’s a quandary: am I too unrealistic and should settle? Does this represent some form of samsaric attachment to feel that these things are a good focus for a future relationship, or are they actually skillful, insightful, and wise? I think the reevaluation is good, but the feelings of self-judgment and guilt aren’t.

Ultimately, I think the only way forward is to accept that the old Z has died. I cannot live my life with some hope of partnership, connection, compatibility, family, and fatherhood in my future. That needs to be buried so something else can live and grow in its place.

I’m still struggling with whether I move towards full abstinence or not as well. Part of me feels it’s necessary, as casual connections, no matter the transparency regarding intentions and deeper emotional unavailability for partnership seems to fall on deaf ears more often than one would expect, and I have no desire to hurt anyone with a broken heart or dashed expectations, even if it isn’t my fault in some sense of clear communication.

I’ve had arguments with friends about intention and manifestation, but ultimately, I don’t believe in manifestation. I’ve had long discussions about that this year, and here are some basic points to summarize. The idea of manifestation, especially in the idea of the law of attraction, is the most mainstream form of magical thinking: magic is inherently the idea that you can use your will to impact some sort of metaphysical flow of the happenings of the world around you without any direct interaction with it other than thought/ritual/word. So, if you believe in the law of attraction, you believe in magic, just rebranded in a new mainstream way. If you respond that no, no, it’s about the psychology of positive intention – then why the near unanimous descriptions of the universe responding to your intention? I could find psychology studies that belief in the results of your efforts will lead to better outcomes (I remember talking about this in a class back in college). The reason isn’t some sort of universal resonance. It’s because you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take, so to speak. So, if you get out there and try, taking a bunch of shots, you’re more likely to have a few go into the goal. I exercise those kinds of positive goal-chasing efforts all the time. That doesn’t require the universe lining up to my intention. I ultimately have tried to manifest my desires repeatedly, with all the energy I can muster, and steadfastly for so much time in the last year. It only succeeded enough to bring in some bright moments followed by being pushed away or erratic rejection, which is clearly not success. In the end, I find it incredibly arrogant, in that way that seemingly only mankind is capable of, to think that my will can influence the greater world in some sort of manifestation of my desire. Some counter that you can’t manifest intentions around others, but why? If I can influence objects with my body and can influence others with my words, mind, or heart, why would I only be able to throw my will out there to influence one but not the other with manifestation? I think that the idea of manifestation is an over-extension of armchair psychology (see above) and apophenia.

I bring that all up to say: I don’t believe that an intention to find the person who’s right for me, opening my heart for them to appear, or whatever other way you want to phrase it will make that person suddenly exist or cross my path from wherever they’re currently going. However, I can intend to set my mind and heart on a path to protect themselves from wasted effort and painful hopes. That’s what I intend.

To close, I’d like to return to the idea of trauma I mentioned above. Years ago, as a masters student in clinical psychology, I wrote a chapter in my final paper about trauma as understood from the philosophy of hermeneutics. I argued that trauma is a realization of the meaninglessness of existence beneath all the understandings we have projected on top of it. That realization shatters everyday life, making it clear that the trust we put into the world is built on nothing. The therapist’s job is to help bear witness and accompany the process of building/finding/creating new meaning and trust in life after such an experience. I feel precisely that way now. I don’t feel any meaning in my existence now beyond showing up to help and care for others in my life. The pursuits of love and partnership in particular feel beyond empty – I don’t trust that others will see me, will connect with me, or that even if they do, that they will show up in turn and love back in a supportive way. These are empty of both meaning and trust.

All in all, I can act as a therapist to myself in finding a new way in life, a new story where I find new strength of heart and mind, but I believe neither that I can find meaning and trust in love and partnership again nor that I can find the person who would reinspire such meaning and trust. I don’t have the energy or will in me to expend the effort to resolve these deep existential wounds.

For them to be “healed” in the way most generally use it would require nothing short of a miracle at this point. I’m open to being surprised, to someone obliterating all of this, but I will not put any further effort into finding a unicorn.


May this close this topic forever on this blog, and may it help others feel companionship if they feel this way themselves.

Gassho!

Some Musings on Change

I’ve recently been thinking a lot about change — personal change, how one changes over time both by choice and by happenstance. Honestly, this has been something I’ve thought about off and on over the years, as I studied psychology in school, but it has come to the forefront of my mind more in recent years due to my interest in Buddhism and the claims I’ve heard others around me make about how certain activities have changed them.

Actually, the issue came to a head a few years ago when pondering some others’ justifications for travelling. They spoke highly of how it changes you, but I didn’t see anything dramatically different about them. I started thinking on my own travels and my own life experiences with change. After much consideration, I came to the conclusion that we don’t understand well how change comes to be in our lives, and perhaps, that has to do with misperceptions of ourselves and our lives.

Change isn’t something that someone just has thrust upon them in a moment. One doesn’t simply see something, and all is done. I’ve been thinking of a good metaphor for this, and ultimately, the passive infliction of change from without seems akin to a wound that heals into a scar — a mark that’s made from an external force that is more or less permanent.

However, no other changes in life happen like that. We’re not simply some sort of soul/identity that is stained from without. We are bodies, processes, unfoldings — a human becoming, a developing person. An example? My dad died this year. The initial shock of it was sudden, external, and permanent. Certainly, but the deeper change that it’s had in my life has been a process. My brain, heart, and daily life are still processes of adaptation. There are stages to grieving, to making sense of the world again after a huge initial alteration like that. The event itself may be epic, but the change, the real impact is something more gradual. Change is like that — it’s a rebuilding of life, brick by brick, day by day.

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This is how our very brains work. If we learn a new skill, it takes 1000s of hours (and apparently, it’s even more complicated than just sheer hours of time) of practice to master it. If one studies neuroplasticity even cursorily, it becomes clear that part of how we adapt as organisms is by building new synaptic connections when we encounter new challenges. These enhance our abilities, our understanding, our skill — but they take time, effort, material resources, and energy. Such is change: it is a new coming to be, a new formation of the universe. Another example? Our cat lost a leg this year due to cancer. We had to amputate it to avoid metastasis. At first, he could barely move and was awkward as hell. We had to bring food to him, but over time, he started meandering around and now is even almost as nimble as he once was. This is due to his brain taking time to rewire many of its sensorimotor connections to adapt to his new situation in life. Like my first example: the brute change is immediate, but the change in the day to day life, the new version of our beloved cat, is a more gradual process, one that he’s still undergoing.

I posit that all change in life, meaningful change that impacts one’s story, one’s existence, is like this. It’s a dynamic new entanglement with different circumstances. It can be one of mastery, where one takes repetitive engagement with something to build a new relationship with it and with life. My own experience with travel is like this: initial experiences impacted me. They expanded my perspectives, but the honing, the real meaning of it, came with living abroad, with spending hours and hours of time with people from other cultures, and with learning another language. Most of the initial experiences have fallen away as hazy memories, just like most others that have not stood the test of time, but the efforts to adapt and master have changed me forever.

Sometimes, the change is more passive. A new job or a new situation carries us along, against maybe our interest or affirmation, but in those cases, we still adapt — living through the banal grind, as it were — and that changes us as well over time. The numerous hours of going through the motions can kill our resolve, make us cynical, one way of thinking about how we change into old age.

“What about trauma?” — you might ask and rightfully so. The event of trauma has an impact, but the ongoing efforts of the mind are where the change of trauma happens: the rehashing of the events over and over in mind, in its particularly intense experience with details that blast beyond any standard memory, or our minds’ ongoing efforts of self-protection through continually pushing the traumatic events out of mind. These adaptive engagements change our relationships with the world, and they change the wiring in our brains. The initial event is only complete in its destruction through the adaptation over time of trying to understand it, to live through it, and to survive beyond it. It presents one of the biggest changes of all — rebuilding meaning and trust in existence after all meaning that we had previously known has been shattered.

My point? Change is always an ongoing dynamic with the lives we’re embedded in. Traveling is just one peak experience among many. We could point to others: music, art, drugs, literature, religious revelation. All of these have their value for opening our eyes to new possibilities, but it’s not the eye-opening that is change, it’s the ongoing investment in (or possibly running away from — ongoing denial) the newly seen alternatives that changes us. It’s the time spent, the long-term relationship with these newfound discoveries, and the growing intimacy with them that is change. Also, what of the open-mindedness we have that leads us to these experiences in the first place? Isn’t that just as important to seeing something as new and exciting as the experience itself? However, ultimately, the way things come to fruition is through that sustained engagement. I can think of many phases I went through in my younger years that didn’t leave much of an impact despite initial enthusiasm. I didn’t engage with them long enough to build that loving or cynical relationship that is change.

Let these words stand, lest we forget that we are organic systems of change. Let us not forget as well how hard change can become due to the strong entanglements in certain ways of being, the ingrained patterns and habits, that we have developed over time. So much of who we “are” are these patterns that have developed: the fruition of change, karma. These are the ties that bind us, not a soul — some inherent personality. The deeper situations we are in, the thoughts we cultivate, we change and solidify into those. Most importantly, let us not forget that we are engines of change — we are not set beings, rather becomings. Confusion on this is our greatest existential balm but also our greatest delusion.


Peak experiences cannot be maintained, and when they pass, the habituated patterns and the underlying sense of separation remain intact.
Peak experiences may open up new possibilities, but they cannot do what a consistent practice or discipline does–instill a deep understanding that expresses itself in life. No quick fix exists. Milarepa, a great Tibetan folk hero who lived in mountain retreats, used to say that to glimpse what is ultimately true is not difficult, but to stabilize that understanding takes years of effort.

— From Wake Up to Your Life by Ken McLeod

Today we understand from scientific research that the human body operates through chemical and molecular processes. By their very nature these processes are in a state of constant, even chaotic change at the cellular level. As mentioned earlier, millions of cells are born and die in each passing second. There’s no solidity at the core. But in our ignorance we live as if the body were solid and unchanging at its core.
The poet W. H. Auden has said, “Our claim to own our bodies and our world / is our catastrophe.” How can we claim ownership of something that’s constantly changing? What does it tell us about the nature of the claim? A deluded mind believes a manifestation to be a thing-in-itself, whereas Buddhist teachings point out that a manifestation is an event. A thing is perceived by the deluded mind to be solid and self-abiding; an event is seen by a mind informed by prajna as a resultant outcome of a certain process. To see oneself truly and authentically, as an event–an ever-changing process–rather than a thing-in-itself is the greatest act of re-imaging.

— From The Heart of the Universe: Exploring the Heart Sutra by Mu Soeng

Priest Daokai of Mount Furong said to the assembly, “The green mountains are always walking; a stone woman gives birth to a child at night.”

Mountains do not lack the characteristics of mountains. Therefore they always abide in ease and always walk. Examine in detail the characteristic of the mountains’ walking.
Mountains’ walking is just like human walking. Accordingly, do not doubt mountains’ walking even though it does not look the same as human walking. The buddha ancestor’s words point to walking. This is fundamental understanding. Penetrate these words.

— From Treasury of the True Dharma Eye by Eihei Dōgen (trans. Kazuaki Tanahashi)